The two men competed in physically vicious and mentally exhausting battles as they strove for NBA championships. Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce have continuously bantered over the years anytime they step on the floor.
But even if the Lakers will likely forever view Pierce as a member of the hated Boston Celtics, the Washington Wizards’ forward showed his sentimental side as he processed Bryant needing to have surgery on his right shoulder in what will likely become a season-ending injury.
“It always saddens me. Kobe is one of my NBA brothers,” Pierce said on Tuesday after morning shootaround at Staples Center, hours before the Lakers (12-33) will host the Wizards (30-15) here. “For him to go down with injury, it always hurts.
Plenty of recent NBA stars have expressed similar sentiments about Bryant’s recent injury. But Bryant’s connection to Pierce traces differently.
The most obvious involves Pierce’s Celtics and Bryant’s Lakers squaring off in the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals, the former series going to the green in six games and the latter series going to the purple and gold in seven. Bryant has since said that he and Pierce frequently talk trash, including the Lakers’ loss on Dec. 3 in Washington.
“It’s just fun. We’re one of the last two of our generation,” Pierce said. “That’s pretty much a lot of the things we talked about on the court, a little bit of a trash in there. We also said there’s no trash talkers in the league today coming up. It’s a generation that’s passing by and a lot of these guys are friends. I don’t think this new generation is competitive as we were with the past guys.”
“Computers,” Pierce said. “They play NBA2K instead of going to the park.”
Bryant and Pierce have become consumed with a different opponent these days.
Before the 2014-15 season started, the 36-year-old Bryant told Sports Illustrated he would model his game after the 37-year-old Pierce. The 16-year veteran joined a rising Washington team this offseason and has averaged 12.8 points, well below his 21 points per game scoring average. But Pierce has shot 45.8 percent from the field, which is slightly above his career 44.7 percent mark.
Meanwhile, Bryant averaged 22.3 points albeit on a career-low 37.3 percent from the field, well below his career average of 45.1 percent shooting. Although Bryant catered his game more in the post, Bryant still averaged 34.5 minutes per night and averaged a team-leading 20.6 field-goal attempts. He also sat out eight of the past 16 games to rest.
“Kobe realizes he’s not the athlete he used to be,” Pierce said. “I never had been a great athlete as he has been. Some of the things he was saying on how I’ve been able to be successful for so long in the way I score the ball and my basketball IQ and footwork and the fakes and the angles that I play. I’ve been able to do that for the length of my career.”
Pierce also said he tries to bring a “veteran calmness” to a young Wizards team featuring John Wall and Bradley Beal as they seek to build on last year’s Eastern Conference semifinal appearance.
“I’ve learned to be a better player off the ball,” Pierce said. “I let the young guys do a lot of the work for me. It makes my job easier.”
That did not pan out the same way for Bryan in his 19th NBA season. But that hardly soils Bryant winning five NBA championships, climbing to third-place standing on the league’s all-time scoring list and overcoming too many injuries to count.
“A lot of fans around the league pay to watch Kobe,” Pierce said. “A lot of fans around the world, regardless of how the Lakers are doing or not, know he’s an icon. He’s a player that has defined this generation.”
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